Vol. XLI No. 19 May 07, 2017

KERALA: Munnar: The Post-Truth Politics

Kodiyeri Balakrishnan

TODAY, Munnar is not merely the name of a region in the state of Kerala. It has evolved into a political-social-media matter. This shift has a devious political objective. This objective has not appeared all of a sudden. It had begun much earlier and displayed its potential on an earlier occasion as well.

The publishers of the Oxford Dictionary have selected ‘post-truth’ as the word of the year 2016. The word depicts a situation where truths are campaigned as non-truths or vice versa. The socio-political campaign on Munnar will certainly fall in that category. This has been used as a tool to create communalism and antagonism towards the CPI(M). With this end in view, the BJP and the Congress front have come together in a macro alliance to play out their resentment against the CPI(M).



The issue of land is a major factor in Munnar. Attempts are being made to spread a false notion that the chief minister and the CPI(M) stand for safeguarding the encroachers. To this effect, it is attempted to portray that while a section of the government and the LDF supported the eviction of the encroachers, another section vouched for the encroachers. Those who have built resorts and mansions illegally and encroachers who have taken over thousands of acres of land should be removed mercilessly and the land should be acquired by the government. The land thus acquired should be distributed to the landless, including plantation workers. It should be used for projects beneficial to the society. The CPI(M) and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan stand for this cause. The land encroachment and the construction of resorts did not happen during the incumbent LDF rule. The last UDF government is answerable for this state of affairs.

The Munnar issue is part of the larger land issues of Idukki district in general. It is because of the complex land issues in the district, that farmer struggles took place with AK Gopalan’s participation at Amaravathi, Cheeruli, Keerithodu regions in 1961 and 1963. AKG made his presence felt in the struggle while the Congress government and police were in action to evict farmers. Christian women gathered at the samara pandal (the struggle site), where AKG led a hunger strike to resist the government’s eviction policy, to pray by lighting candles and holding kurishumaala (the religious cross chain). With the success of that strike, farmers got permission to farm and to build huts on the lands they lived. The EMS government of 1967 gave land to almost four thousand families evicted in the year 1963. As part of the michabhoomi samaram of 1969-70 (residue land strike), under the leadership of AKG, farmers entered the land areas including Devikulam and Udumbanchola, built huts and settled. A strike was held at Aanachalil by Karshaka Sangham in the year 1977 against eviction. Eviction was completely nullified in these regions due to the interventions of EK Nayanar and VS Achuthanandan. The CPI(M) is thus a movement that fights for the rights of the poor to farm and to build own homes. The Party is upholding that adherence and policy.  

It is the complexity of the land issues in Idukki that led to land struggles and mass upheavals within the region unlike other districts. Lack of clarity in rules and circulars do create problems in this regard. The vested interests among the revenue and forest officials often become an obstruction in finding a fair solution. This has led to circumstances where the deserving farmers and adivasis fail to obtain their rightful documents. This is the reason why people question the official procedure of evicting traditional immigrants. MLA Rajendran who joined the people, in this context, is being projected as an encroacher. This manipulative move of some political parties and the media is utterly inhuman. Rajendran has built his home on eight cents of land passed on to him down three generations. Yet false propaganda is being spread against him who has thrice represented Munnar in the assembly.

Idukki has a population of 11 lakhs. Majority of them face issues relating to land documents. The number of people who have not received pattayam is high. It is a matter of grave concern that even while the state of Kerala has reached the diamond jubilee of its formation, the common people of Idukki have not received land documents. The priority of the LDF government should be to solve this issue. The chief minister has made it clear within and outside the assembly that it would be done. This is soothing for the people.

Idukki was sparsely populated until four centuries ago. Settlements sprang up as a result of the support given by the monarchy as well as popular governments. Kings like Thirumala Naykkar who ruled Madurai as well as the Travancore monarchy encouraged immigration. The large scale migrations that took place in 1870-1920 were of workers essential for plantation industry. Those who came in connection with the construction of the electricity projects in the year 1933-44 of Pallivaasal and Chengulam settled down in the region. Thousands of people got land in connection with the Travancore government’s policy of surplus food production in the year 1946-47. A section got land as per the policy that gave land to ex-soldiers. Complaints are rampant that people including those who received land in such circumstances, do not yet have clarity in their land documents. Small and marginal farmers as well as people with four or five  cents of land face grave situation where they are rendered incapable of receiving bank loans and other privileges. Even the section of people belonging to the Giri Vargam face threats of eviction. With this in view, the government would take early action to provide pattayam to thousands of deserving people. There is no difference of opinion on this regard within the LDF or the government.

Even while giving prominence to prompt actions to provide land documents to the common people of Idukki, the LDF and its government are keen on evicting outsize encroachers and bringing the land under government possession. While the UDF government was protecting outsize encroachers, the LDF government would use its power to evict such encroachers. Popular support is to be made sure for the same. It is in this regard that the LDF committee has recommended the government to summon an all-party meeting. The chief minister’s statement that action would be taken by viewing immigration and encroachment as two separate and different things has been welcomed by the people in general. Within Munnar, the land where three rivers meet, Tata Company has sold out regions supposedly under the government ownership. Unjust land dealings should be brought under the rule of law and proper action needs to be taken. The government has taken over five hundred acres of land, including Munnar township, from the Tata Company. Still if interventions are happening in any region, proper action has to be undertaken to cease the same. The land that needs environmental protection should be provided so, while the rest of the land should be given to the poor or used for public projects.

There are clear-cut recommendations in the report of the legislative assembly committee as well in this regard. Following this, the previous VS Achuthanandan-led LDF government had initiated actions. But during the UDF rule, encroachment happened on a large scale. Such encroachments, whether large scale or small scale, should be evicted. The government would make effective schemes without loopholes and there won’t be two different groups in the ministry or in the front for the same. Governance under the LDF is different from that of UDF. The front and the ministry have similar opinion regarding the action that needs to be taken by viewing settlers and encroachers as two different entities in the Idukki land issue.

The attempt by the BJP and the Congress front to utilise the speech of MM Mani shows their political agenda to single out and corner the LDF government. Mani had explained that he had not insulted the Ponpillai Orumai strike. He had expressed his regret, if his speech had hurt anyone’s feelings. Yet, the hartal called in the name of his speech and the satyagraha supporting Ponpillai Orumai, organised by the Congress and the BJP has clear-cut political motives. Similarly, the struggles planned to halt the assembly are manipulated so as to avoid discussions on the past one year’s accomplishments of the LDF government.

The Party state committee looked into the matter and listened to MM Mani’s explanation. The meeting discussed its manifold aspects. In this regard, the state committee decided to censure Mani publically for having adversely affected the image of the Party with his public expressions.

Mani’s speech is being used as a manufactured political issue to defame the LDF government in connection with the Munnar land issue. These political manipulations won’t obstruct the people from supporting the LDF government which is about to celebrate its first anniversary. The current BJP-Congress struggle is a stratagem to weaken the government’s attempts to evict the encroachers. The LDF government would move forward by adhering to the policy of safeguarding land and natural resources.